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  5. Evaluation of onscreen notetaking tools

Evaluation of onscreen notetaking tools

Project leader(s): 
John Baxter

The project aims to explore the use of new integrated onscreen notetaking tools: their effectiveness or otherwise as currently constituted, and how they might be improved.

Distance learning students have been learning from books for many years, and we make a number of assumptions about how effective they are in promoting student learning. Books are 3D objects which allow students to use spatial perceptions to anchor points as an aid to memory. This is often supplemented by the use of annotations, highlights and page markers which many tutors and students feel boost learning.

By contrast, arguably students are habituated to shallow activities while web surfing which militates against the required habits of deep reading on screen. The potential distraction of the internet is a constant nag when reading on an internet connected machine. The presence of hyperlinks presents us with decisions to make; the density of hyperlinks has been found to correlate negatively with retention.

It would be useful to begin to explore to what extent we can overcome some of the difficulties of on-screen learning by the adoption of appropriate tools, for example the onscreen notetaking tool which has been adopted on S201.

A small number of modules have made limited use of on screen notes boxes. Students use these to construct their own notes which are saved on our servers, and are there every time they return to the web page. S201 Science and Society has taken this further, by:

  • Having study notes boxes on every page.
  • Integrating note taking with assessment
  • Providing collated notes at the end of each section and week.

We emphasise to students that our note boxes are optional, and if they want to use pen and paper they can do so.

We are currently gathering statistical data about student use of the tool. We can see that at the beginning of each study topic around 80% of students are using the boxes, whilst at the end of each topic around 30% of students using the boxes. (This data will be added to as later topics are studied).

A first phase of the project will involve a deepening and broadening of this statistical analysis, possibly comparing with other modules that have adopted the boxes in different ways. This first phase will also include interviews with students who chose not to use the tool, to find out whether and how they took notes.